Immigrant’s story: too old to attend English school in NB

PART1: A Columbian refugee struggles to get educated

By Chelsea Mooney

Esteban Bravo Calle sits behind the wheel of a white SUV, in the parking lot of Blockbuster. Shaggy brown hair and a single dread lock sticks out underneath his white baseball cap. Bravo’s hat matches the crisp white t-shirt that hangs on his thin frame. His left hand rests on the steering wheel and he wears an oversized watch on his thin wrist. His dark brown eyes meet mine when I parked my car next to his and rolled down my window.

“Hola. ¿Como estas? ¿Te sigo?” he said.

“Hola. Si, está bien,” I said.

At this remark the passenger of the car, my roommate Paula Hidalgo, looked at me, squinted her eyes and tilted her head slightly.

She asked where he was going to follow us to.

Then I thought about what he had just said and realized that I had confused, “You follow me?” with “I follow you?”.

During our phone call before meeting up the mix of English and Spanish had confused us both – to the point where we didn’t actually know where we were holding the interview.

I brought Hidalgo with me for this very reason – to be my translator if my knowledge of the Spanish language failed me or if Calle’s knowledge of the English language confused him.

According to Statistics Canada Calle is one of the 1,803 immigrants who came to New Brunswick between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008.

Calle and his family have been living in Fredericton for one year.

New Brunswick is trying to increase its population, because the province is aging and its young population is out-migrating.

Immigration is one of the strategies and by 2015, the population growth secretariat hopes to increase immigration to 5,000 people per year.

New Brunswick is spreading the message worldwide that people can “be themselves” in the province. But sometimes it isn’t that easy.

Calle was eating dinner last February when his father gave the family the big news – they had a month to get ready to go to Canada.

Calle knew that there was a chance the family was going to immigrate, but he wasn’t sure until that day.

He knew that Colombia wasn’t always safe, but he didn’t pay much attention.

“I always felt safe, even when I knew it wasn’t. The problems were with my dad. I don’t like to remember those problems. I don’t like to talk about them. They are problems that were only talked about within the family – no one else knows,” Calle said.

Calle will only say that his father was facing “security problems.” His father was a CEO of a bank in Colombia, so when the problems arose, his father talked to his employers.

His employers talked to the Canadian embassy and Calle’s father began filling out the paperwork to immigrate to Canada.

Before they came to Canada the Calle family had a permanent residence status and social insurance numbers.

Calle had mixed feelings about coming to Canada.

“I cried, because I had lots of friends and I had a girlfriend. So I was upset but I was also happy at the same time,” Bravo said.

The family prepared to immigrate to Canada in 2007. After a year of preparation they arrived in New Brunswick in March 2008.

Bravo is happy to be in New Brunswick because of how safe it is here, but the move has set him back four years.

“I need a diploma for university but my Colombian diploma isn’t accepted here. So I need to get a Canadian diploma [from high school],” Calle said.

He graduated high school in ‘05 and he attended a year of university in his home city of Medellín.

Bravo is 20-years-old and because of his age Fredericton High School wouldn’t allow him to study there. Bravo decided to go talk to École Sainte-Anne and they had no problems with him attending school there.

The rest of Bravo’s family is studying now as well. Although Bravo’s father studied business in Colombia and his mother was a nurse, right now neither of them has a job.

Monday through Friday they take English classes at the Multi-Cultural Association.The classes run all day, so they don’t have time to work – and right now it would be difficult with their level of English.

Calle’s father has a friend who is a carpenter and sometimes he works with him.

Calle has a younger sister, who is currently studying at Fredericton High School. Since she is high school age she had no problems getting into the school.

She too, however, has been set back.

In Colombia she would have been in grade 12 but here she is in grade 10.

Although Calle found a school where he could get his diploma, there is a problem. École Sainte-Anne is the French school of Fredericton – and Calle doesn’t speak French.

Calle knows a Colombian girl who lives here in Fredericton and speaks French. He says that she helped him get into École Sainte-Anne, and that the school knew from the beginning that he doesn’t speak French.

“It’s hard. I don’t speak French and I don’t really speak English but it’s good. I’m in twelfth grade right now. All I have to do is study – just study. Even if I fail exams sometimes I will get the diploma. I will graduate, I just have to go and study and make the effort.”

Calle is taking classes to learn French along with all of his classes in French at school.

But this is frustrating for him. He can communicate in English better than French and he wants to improve his English.

But since he wants to study at a university in New Brunswick he’s being forced to learn French just so he can receive a high school diploma.

“The hardest part is when the teachers talk to me. When my teacher talks to me it is difficult because the teacher was speaking and I don’t understand. So ‘I’m sorry’… ‘excuse moi’. But it’s not a problem. When I tell them I don’t understand they say, ‘Ok, no problem’ ,” Bravo said.

Bravo says that all of his teachers know that he doesn’t speak French and that they all help him a lot.
In 2005, after graduating from high school, Bravo studied English for six months in Colombia. He then went to the United States to study for six months, but didn’t end up studying because of all the partying he was doing.

Bravo studied journalism at a university in Medellín for one year in 2006. He has many different interests of things he would like to study. Although he doesn’t know whether he would like to study journalism again or something else, like business, Bravo is anxious to get back to studying at university


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